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What My Son Told Me That Finally Helped Me Understand His ADHD

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“Simon is impossible to teach.”

“A major distraction in class…”

“Wastes his and others’ time..”

“One of the worst students I’ve ever had the misfortune to try and educate…”

“Will amount to nothing in life if his attitude doesn’t change…”

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When I was at school, they didn’t have things like ADD or ADHD. What they did have, however, was me. I was labeled a problem child from early on — a reputation that stayed with me until the end of high school. Back then, the “treatment” wasn’t a controlled diet, occupational therapy or medication; it was a solid thrashing. No matter how much I tried, I just couldn’t concentrate in class. The facts and figures thrown at me made absolutely no sense, so I became the class clown, trying to annoy the teachers so badly that they’d throw me out of class to sit in the corridor for the remainder of the lesson. Needless to say, I barely scraped through school, which in turn brought on its own smorgasbord of problems at home.

Being labeled like this led to some serious self-esteem issues that I was only able to sort out much later in life. I’m still dealing with some of it today. So when my son was diagnosed with ADHD, my wife and I decided then and there to give him the best possible chance, no matter what. We changed his diet, added supplements and vitamins and sent him to occupational therapy for two years. This all helped to a degree, but we finally had to accept that medical intervention was inevitable and necessary.

Now before you pass judgment — yes, I agree that Ritalin is over-prescribed — but for us it’s been a real game-changer. My son is currently in the third grade, acing his reports and getting full mark for maths at a grade-four level.

I think the clincher for us was when I asked him why he couldn’t seem to concentrate in class and he answered, “Dad, it’s like when the radio isn’t tuned in properly and all you hear is that irritating noise.” That was when I understood. He was drowning in all the static and only the occasional snippet of information was getting through to him. See, ADD and ADHD don’t allow you to filter out and concentrate on one specific thing; you’re trying to concentrate on everything all at once. It’s like having 20 tabs open in your browser, each of them with their own audio playing at full volume and trying to understand every single one of them, all at the same time.

I’m not saying that medicine has “cured” him completely. We still have challenges, small and big, every single day. When we do homework together in the afternoon, he gets angry and frustrated easily, and I have to maintain the calm by speaking softly to him. He obsesses over the tiniest details to the point where it’s all he can think about until he either has a total meltdown or the perceived problem is sorted out. Part of that problem is that he battles to see the forest for the trees. He’s an emotional kid who is easily hurt, meaning we have to be careful how we reprimand or speak to him, being firm yet gentle. When he wakes up in the morning, he goes from fast asleep to completely hyperactive in the space of a minute. Loud and boisterous with a dash of insane at the crack of dawn can be frustrating, to say the least. It’s also a challenge because we have 6-year-old twin daughters who also need time with Mom and Dad, so it becomes a bit of a juggling act to ensure that everyone gets the attention they need. Unfortunately, sometimes one of them will inevitably feel left out.

My son is also keenly aware that he’s different from a lot of his peers, and I think that plays on his mind a lot. At his last checkup with the pediatrician, he turned to my wife and said, “What if they can’t fix me properly?” The fact that he worries about it so much is difficult for me. It’s a burden knowing that I’ve passed this on to him, making his life a lot more difficult and complicated than it needs to be. Yet, the strides he’s made to overcome his ADHD leave me in awe of his determination and strong will. I’m trying to teach him to celebrate his differences, to revel in them and to be proud of them because they are what make him, to me at least, the most special little boy in the world. And I wouldn’t change a single thing about him. He’s taught me how to be a kinder, better, more gentle father and human being. Despite the challenges we face each day, we face them together as a family full of love and respect for each other.

I love you, Nicnac. No matter what.

father and son in superman shirts hugging in park

This post originally appeared on It’s a Mad Dad World.

Originally published: January 6, 2015
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